I love cheese. I love aged, fresh, fragrant, stinky, hard, soft; you name it I love it. So it should come as no surprise that I love risotto. I love the creamy and soft texture, and the rich taste. But unfortunately, I am terribly lactose intolerant.
Over the years, I’ve tried many non-dairy or vegan substitutes for cheese. Expectedly, none actually tasted like cheese. They just tasted oily. I even searched all over town, and found, Daiya “cheese,” the supposed answer to my prayers. Not even close to the real thing. Obviously, the people who laud this “cheese” has never tasted real cheese before. So I decided to stop trying to substitute cheese with its dairy-free alternatives. Instead, I began creating and cooking dishes that are reminiscent of the creamy and rich texture of cheese dishes. And I eat a little bit of real cheese once in a while. Come on. You can’t expect me to cut it off completely, do you?
Luckily, I was able to find an acceptable – well more than acceptable, quite delicious – substitute for risotto. I call it my “faux risotto.” I don’t use arborio rice. I use what I have on hand, usually cooked short-grain brown rice. And I often have baked chicken in the fridge. So I just chop it up and throw it in the pan. As you can see, this recipe is not as laborious as a traditional risotto recipe. It’s actually quite easy. It takes me about 15 minutes to put together.
I add a little bit of butter to the dish at the end of the cooking process. For some reason I can tolerate little bits of butter. As you might have guessed, I take advantage of this anomaly as often as I can. That little bit of butter really enhances the flavor. But if you want this dish to be completely dairy-free, omit the butter and use toasted sesame oil instead. Either way, the dish is absolutely delectable , not to mention gluten-free and optionally dairy-free.
Mushroom “Risotto” Recipe
Serves 2 people
1/4 onion loosely chopped or sliced thinly
6 oz. mushrooms sliced thinly
1/2+ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 baked or sautéed chicken breast cubed (optional)
2 1/2 – 3 cups steamed brown rice
1 TB tamari
1/2 – 1 TB butter or toasted sesame oil*
salt and pepper
green onions chopped, green parts only
- Heat a pan on moderately high heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and mushrooms to the pan. Sauté until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are golden brown. Add a pinch of salt and stir.
- Add the rice to the pan and mix well. Add 1/2 cup of broth, pinch of salt, and chicken (if using). Stir until the entire mixture is heated through. Add more broth if necessary (also depending on the preferred consistency).* When the mixture is heated through, add the tamari and butter/sesame oil. Turn off heat immediately and mix. Taste for seasoning. If necessary, add salt to taste. Mix. Add a generous amount of fresh ground black pepper. Garnish with chopped onions.
I end up using about 3/4 cup of broth. Don’t be afraid to add more broth, if the consistency gets too dry or sticky.
For a dairy-free option, use toasted sesame oil instead of butter. Just add a drizzle at the end as a finishing oil.
Be sure to turn off the heat immediately after adding the tamari (gluten-free soy sauce). You don’t want the tamari to cook. It really makes a difference in taste.
You can also add some frozen peas or a big handful of spinach/baby kale. Add them to the pan when you add the broth.